By Jonathan Graff
As traditional social media platforms struggle with concerns over data privacy and censorship, alternative social media networks, or alt-tech networks, have emerged as new platforms for free speech and user privacy.
Traditional social media giants have faced intense scrutiny in recent years due to a range of issues, including data privacy breaches, concerns over content moderation, and accusations of bias in their algorithms. As a result, many users have become disillusioned with these platforms and have sought new communities that offer greater transparency. Alt-tech networks have emerged as a response to this growing demand for more user-centric platforms, and have gained traction as the new frontier for free speech online.
These communities, however, pose a challenge for corporate security teams conducting social media intelligence monitoring. As new platforms continue to emerge, analysts may not be aware of their existence – making it difficult to identify and monitor potentially malicious activities and threats on these platforms. As a result, security teams could miss threats that are hiding in plain sight, leading to potential security breaches and business continuity disruptions.
To effectively mitigate these risks, security teams must stay up-to-date on the latest alt-tech networks and develop new strategies to monitor and address potential security threats. In this article, we will explore five alt-tech social networks that are set to gain more attention and users in 2023, and their potential impact on the social media landscape.
Mastodon is an alternative social media platform that resembles Twitter. But unlike its rival microblogging service, Mastodon operates as a decentralized network. This means that there is no central authority that oversees the platform's content or monitors user activity. Instead, the community operates on a network of independent servers. Users can create accounts on any server and communicate with users on other servers through a "federation" system.
This federated system has several advantages. Firstly, you can choose to join instances that have privacy and security features that align with their needs. This allows users to maintain greater control over their personal data and the content they post. Second, a federated network allows users to customize their experience by joining instances that cater to specific interests or demographics. Mastodon has servers catering to niche communities from OSINT enthusiasts and Bruins fans to bird watchers. This can result in more diverse and engaging discussions. Finally, each instance on the Mastodon federated network is managed by its own community, which means that users can create and enforce their own moderation policies. This allows for a more democratic and self-regulating community.
Mastodon has long remained a small, niche service until after Elon Musk's recent acquisition of Twitter. In the weeks following the announcement, Mastodon experienced a surge in monthly active users from 300,000 to 2.5 million. This growth, however, has since stalled. Users who have tried Mastodon may have discovered that the platform is less user-friendly than Twitter, and it can be challenging to rebuild your social network if your contacts are scattered across different servers. Furthermore, Mastodon's decentralized nature means that each server has its own set of moderation rules, which may vary widely and seem arbitrary to some users.
So while it would be an exaggeration to call this site “the next Twitter,” the community has grown large enough to deserve the attention of security analysts.
OSINT analysts can monitor Mastodon on the site itself by searching for keywords, hashtags, and usernames relevant to their research topics. Additionally, they can use specialized paid tools, such as Mentionlytics or Socialert, or Liferaft Navigator to track and analyze Mastodon activity in a more comprehensive and efficient manner. These tools can provide features such as sentiment analysis, trend identification, and real-time alerts, making it easier for analysts to stay up-to-date on relevant information.
Post, also known as Post.News, is a social media platform that puts the focus on intelligent conversations and discussions about high-quality news content. Although anyone can join, the main focus of the platform is on news-related topics. The goal of Post is to create a safe space where different voices can be found, followed, and shared without any negative or harmful behavior. The platform is similar to Twitter, where journalists often share their work, research, and engage in conversations about current events.
What separates Post from other social networks is the site’s paywall system. Post encourages journalists and media organizations to share articles that are behind paywalls on their platform. Instead of subscribing to those publications, users can pay for each article they want to read through Post's pay-to-read model, with the cost clearly labeled as "points." The majority of articles cost between 1-3 points, which equates to a few cents per article. Users can also tip content creators for content they appreciate.
Post is a new social media platform that became available to the public in April, and they have not revealed the size of their community yet. Due to its small size and predominantly centrist user base, the site currently has limited value for analysts when compared to larger and more established platforms. Our analysts at Liferaft have observed minimal activity in the forums so far.
But given that the platform is expanding rapidly, it is advisable for analysts to monitor it closely for any potential developments or threats. OSINT analysts can monitor Post by using advanced search operators to search for keywords, hashtags, and usernames relevant to their research topics. They can also create and save custom searches, and set up alerts to receive notifications when new content is posted.
3. Hive Social
Hive Social is a social media application that is exclusively accessible via mobile devices. It has a design and functionality that is extremely similar to Twitter. Users can follow other users and vice versa. They can also "like" or "heart" posts from other users, and share other people's posts, which Hive refers to as a "repost". Compared to other microblogging alternatives like Twitter and Mastodon, Hive is less complex and more straightforward in its design.
Still, there are some important differences to mention. Hive has a straightforward chronological feed, lacks blue check marks and boosted posts, and doesn't have a desktop client. Users can customize their profiles more, and there's no character limit on posts. Hive also has a "discover" section to help users find content of interest.
Like Post, Hive Social is still a long way from becoming mainstream. Although the app topped out at No. 6 on the charts for Google Play’s top free downloads, Hive has garnered only 900,000 active users. Because of its small size, analysts may not find Hive useful to follow yet. However, the platform is growing rapidly, so this could change in the future.
The attempt to create a right-wing alternative to Facebook or Twitter have mostly failed in recent years. Gettr never managed to get former U.S. President Donald Trump to sign up to their platform, which left the site wallowing in obscurity. Parler gained an active user base that planned and documented the US Capitol attack, leading to bans from major app stores and hosting platforms. Gab's slim hopes were destroyed in 2022 when Elon Musk purchased Twitter, reviving it as a gathering place for right-wing commentators. Rumble, however, represents a striking exception to this trend.
Launched in 2013, Rumble is a video platform that has branded itself as a "neutral video platform" in response to cancel culture. The website appears to be old-fashioned, but the app is more polished and similar to YouTube. Rumble has all of the expected social functions like voting, commenting, and a sidebar of other videos to watch. Content is divided up into categories like Viral, Finance, and Sports. But Rumble's most popular creators focus almost entirely on politics. The site serves as a refuge for commentators banned from more mainstream platforms like YouTube. And in recent years, executives have signed dozens of high-profile celebrities to the site, including Glenn Greenwald, Steven Crowder, and Donald Trump Jr.
While Rumble aims to avoid limiting "open discourse," the site still has a moderation policy that prohibits posting personal information, stalking, doxing, and obscenity. That said, its laissez faire approach to content moderation does make it a hotbed for misinformation. Media analytics firm NewsGuard, a platform that evaluates the credibility of news websites, reported that almost half of the search results on Rumble related to the 2022 election came from untrustworthy sources. And the agency even went as far as labeling Rumble as "hoax central."
The Bottom Line on Alt-Tech Social Networks
While alternative social media platforms may not have the same user base as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, they are growing rapidly in popularity. And as these platforms continue to expand, they will inevitably become a source of threat intelligence that security professionals will need to monitor closely.
By staying aware of what's happening on these platforms, OSINT analysts and corporate security teams can gain valuable insights into emerging threats and stay ahead of potential risks. Therefore, it's critical for security professionals to keep an eye on these alt-tech social networks and stay vigilant as the online landscape continues to evolve.